A deserved but bittersweet victory for Jack Catterall

TWICE now ringside judges have tarnished Jack Catterall’s night, albeit in two very different ways.

First time they somehow contrived to make him a loser in a fight he clearly won, whereas last night (May 25) in Leeds they overcorrected that mistake by having him widely win a fight that was clearly close.

That, for Jack Catterall, may seem like justice of sorts until, that is, you realise that sometimes winning a close fight by a wide margin leaves the victorious fighter open to just as much criticism as winning a fight they didn’t deserve to win. Had the scorecards (117-111, 117-111, 116-113) been closer, for example, Bob Arum, Josh Taylor’s promoter, would not have had licence to ambush the post-fight interviews and yell that the decision was a “disgrace” and promise to never again allow his fighters to box in the UK. As it was, because the judges had seemingly tried to overcompensate, Catterall, beaten by Taylor almost two and a half years ago, was left feeling, rather unfortunately, as though he had both won a fight and been done a favour.

Not only that, at the fight’s conclusion, Catterall was totally honest about things. When, for instance, he was asked how he felt to have secured his revenge, he described the decision win over Taylor as “bittersweet”, referencing the fact there were no world titles on the line this time around. (Last time they fought, of course, there was more than one super-lightweight belt available for Catterall to win.) “But I won the fight,” he said last night, “and I can close that chapter with Josh Taylor. I believe I won the fight; I took more risks this time, I went through the gears. I was controlling the pace, and I was landing clean. It was a fight of two halves but I still believe there were rounds in the second half I was winning.”

Which, in all honesty, is probably the most accurate reading of the fight. It is certainly preferable to either two of the judges’ and Bob Arum’s reading of the fight and, by conceding it was a fight of two halves, lends credence to my scorecard of seven rounds to five (in Catterall’s favour).

It was a close fight, yes, but Catterall still deserved to win, and not just because he was robbed of a win in 2022, either. He was deserving of the win in the rematch because on the whole he was the one who produced the more eye-catching moments, used his jab more effectively, and secured the final momentum swing in the fight when hurting Taylor in round 11. That, in fact, proved a crucial turning point in both that round and the fight as a whole. Until then, you see, it had been extremely close, with an argument to be had that it was level, yet it was in this round, the 11th, Catterall threw a huge overhand left – chucked blindly as he dipped low – which caught Taylor flush on the way in and rocked him to his very foundations. This in itself represented a breakthrough moment for Catterall, what with it being the first real damaging shot in the fight, but what made it all the more crucial was the fact that Taylor had in that very round been building up a head of steam and seemed on his way to winning it. To therefore hurt Taylor and grab back the momentum was everything for Catterall and indeed, were it not for the ridiculous scorecards of the judges, would have been considered a fight-changing shot.

Catterall lands a left (Mark Robinson Matchroom Boxing)

As it happened, Catterall, now 29-1 (13), didn’t need the big left hand in round 11, for he was going to win anyway. This he would not have known at the time, of course, but his reaction at the end, when mocking Taylor for daring to raise his arm, said everything about Catterall’s belief that he had won. Moreover, it showed the fear he had that history would repeat itself.

That it didn’t was encouraging, both for Catterall and British boxing, yet it was interesting nevertheless to compare the reactions to the decision this time around to the reactions back in February 2022. This time around Taylor, the one so fortunate in fight number one, could be seen shaking his head ruefully when learning of his defeat (the second of his pro career) and it was hard, to some extent, not to sympathise with him. After all, so bad were two of the scorecards, Taylor, 19-2 (13), has every right to feel almost as dejected as Catterall did following the pair’s first fight. Interestingly, too, he boxed much better last night in Leeds in a losing effort than he did when “beating” Catterall in Glasgow; something that becomes only more interesting when you consider Catterall was arguably better in fight number one than he was in fight number two.

In fight number one, Catterall did just about everything right and the only knock against him was the fact that he faded a touch down the stretch. For 12 rounds he had led Taylor a dance (dropping him in round eight) and produced one of the finest performances seen in a British ring that year, whereas last night, maybe due to the sudden expectation, Catterall didn’t appear quite so loose, or majestic. He still retained the same level of control he had when fighting Taylor in fight one, but this time Taylor had brief spells of success he was largely lacking when meeting Catterall in Glasgow. There was, on the part of Taylor, more aggression, more body shots, and more conviction to a lot of his work, with the element of surprise now gone. At times he was relentless, particularly in rounds two and three, rounds in which they clashed heads on account of Taylor’s desperation to make it a physical fight. But this pressure of Taylor’s couldn’t last and nor did it. By round five, in fact, Taylor had fallen flat, the snap in his punches having deserted him, and now it was Catterall who was dictating the pace, rattling off consecutive jabs and reclaiming the centre of the ring. Now it was Catterall who was whipping shots into the body and causing Taylor to suck up air.

Taylor lands a left (Mark Robinson Matchroom Boxing)

These were all mostly close rounds, mind you. Even many of the ones Catterall was winning were not being won by much and the same can be said for the ones bagged by Taylor; like, for example, the seventh, which he concluded with a good left cross followed by a right hook to body. In the ninth, meanwhile, there was a moment where Taylor dropped his hands and Catterall landed a flurry of five shots, once more driving Taylor back to the ropes. Yet in the 10th Taylor would again capitalise on Catterall’s suddenly low output to land some solid body shots and push the pace.

The key, in the end, was Catterall’s jab. This, unlike Taylor’s, was a real point-scorer and momentum-shifter. It also set up his left cross, which, of all the punches in the fight, was clearly the most damaging. It was a danger to Taylor throughout the bout and then, in the 11th round, was the punch that almost disconnected him from his senses and guaranteed this fight would avoid a repeat of the controversy from two and a bit years ago.

That, sadly, was not to be the case. However, one gets the impression with these two that no matter how many times they fight, and regardless of how their fights unfold, there will always be a sense that one of the fighters is leaving the venue and going home feeling hard done by. That’s just the nature of two great rivals, I suppose.

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